cover image Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented Them

Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented Them

John Bainbridge, Jr. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-26686-6

Journalist and lawyer Bainbridge (coauthor, American Gunfight) spotlights in this laudatory history the “keen inventors and wily businessmen” who built America’s gun industry. Contending that gun manufacturing was inextricably linked to the rise of “mechanized production and interchangeable parts,” Bainbridge documents how mass-produced weapons such as the Remington and Colt revolvers and the Spencer repeating rifle contributed to the settlement of the American West and the Union’s victory in the Civil War. He also delves into the colorful biographies of America’s leading gun manufacturers, noting that Eliphalet Remington II was a “romantic youth with pacifist leanings” who wrote poetry before he founded the company that bears his name, and that Oliver Winchester drifted from carpentry to the clothing business to the firearms trade. Though these “gun barons” accelerated the demise of American craftsmen and the rise of large corporations, their names are still synonymous with “old-fashioned pluck and Yankee ingenuity,” Bainbridge notes. Flowery constructions (“Free of tyranny and drunk on possibility, the United States barreled into the mid-nineteenth century with a sense of conquest and creativity”) occasionally disrupt the book’s otherwise crisp, journalistic prose, and Bainbridge refrains from fully reckoning with the negative aspects of America’s gun culture. Still, firearms enthusiasts will savor this brisk and entertaining account. (May)